Dr. Renu Mundhara Soni, Dr. Garima Malik and Dr. Geeta Mehta give us a lowdown on what plants and seeds Lord Shiva liked.
Plants are nature’s major processors of solar energy which is vital for our existence. They yield also flowers, fruits, wood or medicines, and thus have been worshipped by the Hindus as a matter of gratitude.
Plants are regarded to be incarnations or symbols of God or deities and therefore their worship became more common. They play an important part in the myths and customs of India. Without the use of plants and their products the religious and cultural rituals are not completed.
Indians are highly religious and a variety of rituals related to worship of Gods, and Goddesses are performed round the year. Due to their ecological value and efficacious properties, trees continue to be used in the religious and social ceremonies of the Hindus. Different species of plants have special association with particular deities.
Shivaratri meaning ‘Night of Shiva’ is an important festival for the millions of devotees of Lord Shiva. Maha Shivaratri is the wedding day of the Lord Shiva and Mata Paravati, celebrated on the 14th day of the dark fortnight in the month of Phalgun (February-March). Worshipers of Lord Shiva on this night are absolved of all their sins and liberate them from the cycle of birth and death.
In Hindu mythology, Lord Shiva is the ‘God of destruction; the angry god. But at the same time, he is the also God of creation and his name means ‘auspicious’ implying that every disaster is followed by something good.
Lord Shiva lives the life of hermit in the wilderness of Mount Kailash and is clad in animal skin. He loves all wild things and thus the pretty flowers are never offered to him. Different species of trees also have special association with particular deities: Lord Shiva is worshipped with leaves of Aegle maramelos (bel patra), Cannabis (bhang); flowers of Calotropis (aak), Thevetia (peeli kaner); fruits of Datura, Zizyphus mauritiana (ber),seeds of Elaeocarpus ganitrus (Rudraksh) and Santalum album (sandal wood).
- Arka or aak is taxonomically known as Calotropis procera belonging to the family Its names in different languages are –arka, alarka, mandaraand suryapattain Sanskrit; madar, and ak in Hindi; milk weed or swallow-wort in English. It has two varieties C. procera and C. gigantea, both of which are held to be sacred to Shiva. The leaves and flowers are considered to be sacred. It is a waste land plant. The milky, sour and pungent latex present in all parts of the plant is the uniqueness of this shrub. Therefore, commonly known as rubber bush or milk weed. It has pretty purple coloured, and slightly scented flower, having a sweet and agreeable odour. The coarse shrub exhibits good antibacterial, anticancerous, ascaricidal, antimicrobial, anthelminthic, antioxidant and analgesic effect. Calotropis species are considered common weed with multipurpose utilization. The stems yield a fibre, known as madar, useful for making ropes, bags, nets and paper. This plant also have ecological importance by improving soil fertility, soil water holding capacity and is a useful bio-indicator to monitor pollution in varying concentrations of Boron, Manganese, Selenium, Chromium and Zinc.
Religious association: Akonda, white flower with bluish tinge matched the bluish hue of Shiva’s throat.
Maha Shivaratri is celebrated in reverence of the God Shiva. Shivaratri is a day when Shiva married to Goddess Parvati. The Maha Shivaratri is also known as ‘Great night of Shiva’ marks the convergence of Shiva and Shakti.
- Bael is one of the most sacred tree, associated with God having useful medicinal properties, especially as a cooling agent. Botanically it is Aegle marmelos belonging to the family Rutaceae. It’s name in different languages are – Bilva or Sriphal in Sanskrit; Bel, Bael Sripal, Bilpatre in Hindi; Bael, stone apple in English. This Indian origin tree is popular in Shiva temples. The trifoliate leaves are alternate. The flowers are small, greenish-white and sweet-scented. The fruit is spherical berry with a hard woody shell and a sweet, yellow-orange-colored, aromatic thick pulp. It has a great mythological significance for Hindus. The shade of this tree is cool and cures disorders. Because of these properties, it is known to be very pure, auspicious and a purifier. All parts of this tree are medicinally useful, and act as antidiabetic, antimicrobial, anti- inflammatory, antipyretic, analgesic, anticancer and radioprotectant.
Religious association: Beal leaves placed on the head of Lord Shiva, or on his emblem the lingam, to cool the hot-tempered deity and is considered to be conductive to wellbeing and happiness, and the destruction of sins as well. The three leaflets of bael leaf considered as the three eyes or trident weapon of Lord Shiva and believed to be symbolic of the three main forces of life: creation, destruction and preservation. According to Skanda Purana bael tree originated from the sweat of Goddess Lakshmi or Parvathi which had fallen on the mountain Mandra. The beal tree emits positive frequencies and eliminates negative energies in the persons who come near it.
- Ber is botanically known as Zizyphus mauritiana belonging to the family Its names in different languages are –Badri in Sanskrit; ber, bor in Hindi; Indian Jujube in English. The tree is associated with Lord Shiva, whose worship is considered incomplete without offering of the jujube fruit, especially during Mahashivaratri. It is small evergreen tree, with drooping branches armed with stipular spines. The ripe fruit is very nutritious and is consumed raw. Medicinally it is used as hypnotic-sedative, antifungal, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, cardiotonic, antioxidant, and wound healing properties. The wood is used for construction and for making agricultural implements.
Religious association: Ber or jujube fruit is offered to Lord Shiva, as it is symbolic of longevity and gratification of desires.
- Bhang, commonly known as Cannabis or Marijuana, is an annual herb that is notorious for its narcotic properties. Taxonomically known as Cannabis sativa and belongs to the family Cannabinaceae. The male and female plants are separate. The herbaceous plant has palmate leaves with serrate leaflets. Cannabis has a prehistoric association with mankind, and has been cultivated throughout history as a source of medicine (from the flower buds), fiber (from the stalks), food and oil (from the seeds) and for religious, spiritual and recreation purposes. Bhang, Charas and Ganja are extracted from the leaves and female flower of this plant. If taken in proper amount under medical supervision, these substances have medicinal qualities and can be used to cure insomnia, depression, anxiety and various kinds of pains. However, if these substances are taken in high dose and habitually then they are dangerous.
Religious Association: According to Hindu mythology, bhang is linked with Lord Shiva. It is believed that Lord Shiva has his abode in the cold Himalayan region and kept himself intoxicated with bhang to meditate for long duration and stay warm. Some people also believe that bhang helps him in controlling his anger and thus world remain safe from his destructive power.
- Chandan or Sandal is a medium sized, evergreen and is highly valued for its unique perfumed wood. The sandal tree, taxonomically known as Santalum album belongs to the family Santalaceae. Sandalwood has very prominent position in Hindu religion; it is considered sacred and indispensable in nearly all religious rituals and social ceremonies. Sandalwood oil, extracted from its heart wood, and sandalwood paste has many medicinal and spiritual uses. It has various antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties and used in treating rheumatic and joint pain, urinary tract infection, acne, herpes, body odor and tuberculosis. Application of sandalwood paste on the forehead has an immense calming effect and helps in clearing stress and lifts depression. Due to its various curative properties, pure sandal wood and its oil are regarded as valuable as gold; sometimes known as wooden gold. Sandalwood is very fine grained and is also used for various art crafting.
Religious Association: Shiv lingam or Shiv ling is the symbol of Lord Shiva and the devotees worship lingam in temples by offering water/milk/panchamrit to please Lord Shiva. After Jaal Abhishek, devotees smeared Lingam with chandan paste or make three parallel lines with chandan paste on the lingam. It is believed that Lord Shiva is always in a highly inflammable state, therefore, water and chandan paste is applied to Shiv linga to keep it cool and calm.
- Datura, commonly known as Dhattura (Sanskrit) or Dhetoora (Hindi), is an annual/biennial herbaceous shrub that belongs to the family Solanaceae. Datura metel, Datura stramonium and Datura innoxia are the common species that grow as weed. Leaves dull-green in color with serrated margins. The flowers are solitary, erect, trumpet shaped and fragrant. Thefruitis a globose capsule, covered with spines. It is a toxic and poisonous plant due to the presence of tropane alkaloids. Despite being poisonous, different parts of this plant have been used to prepare medicines in Ayurveda to cure asthma, impotency, glaucoma, heart disorders, epilepsy, skin ailments, urinary problems and as anaesthetic during surgery and child birth since ancient times.
Religious association: Its flower and fruits are considered to be holy and are used in rituals and worship of God Shiva. Garlands made up of Datura fruits are offered to Lord Shiva. According to the Hindu religious text Vamana Purana, Datura is believed to appear from the chest of God Shiva. Shiva is also known as Vishdhari or Neel-kath because he drank poison for the welfare of the world that was churned out from the task of churning of the cosmic ocean between Dev and Asur. Therefore, it is believed that offering Datura to Shiva has its symbolic meaning. It is offered to Shiva to get rid of the poison of envy, terror, rivalry, foul language and wicked nature so that one can become pure and get rid of all sin.
- Peeli kaner, Ashvaghna/ Divyapushpa/ Haripriya (Sankrit), Yellow oleander (English) is a large evergreen shrub. Botanically it is known as Thevetia peruviana, belonging to the family Apocynaceae. Glossy green linear leaves are spirally arranged and the tree bears bright yellow funnel shaped flowers which are scented. All parts of the plants produce a milky sap that is highly poisonous due to the presence of cardiac glycosides, especially the kernels of the fruit, and if ingested leads to pain in mouth and lips, vomiting, abdominal pain and cramping, nausea and bradycardia. Sometimes its intake may even lead to death; it is a known instrument of killing and therefore, popularly known as “suicide tree”. Despite being poisonous, its seeds and leaves were used in traditional medicines for the treatment of swelling, leprosy, eye diseases and skin disorders. Its roots are made into plaster and applied to tumors. A tincture of the bark is a bitter therapeutic and emetic; it is also used as a medicine to reduce fever.
Religious association: Like many other toxic flowers, the flowers of yellow oleander are immensely liked by Shiva and therefore used as offering during worship.
- Rudraksha is traditionally used as prayer beads in Hindu religion particularly associated with Lord Shiva. The word “Rudra” and “Aksha” mean Lord Shiva and Teardrops respectively, i.e “Rudra’s Tear Drops”. Botanically, the holy rudraksha tree is known as Elaeocarpus ganitrus belonging to the family Elaeocarpaceae. Its names in different languages are – rudrāk-a in Sanskrit; Rudraksh tree in Hindi; Utrasum Bead Tree in It is a medium sized evergreen broad-leaved tree with a wide crown, occurring in the Himalayan slopes of India and Nepal. Fruits are deep bluish purple, globose and enclose a hard, longitudinally grooved, normally 5-celled stone (seed). Stone with fewer or more than 5 cells also occur and fetch higher prices than the 5 celled ones. These faces also called “mukhi” meaning “the clefts or furrows or faces on the surface” it is a rare gift of nature to mankind in the sense that most beads come with a natural hole drilled in the centre. Different mukhi Rudrakshas have unique properties and provides various scientific, medical and spiritual benefits.
Religious association: Rudraksha is a gift of Lord Shiva for the benefit of mankind. According to “Shiva Purana”, Lord Shiva once went into deep meditation for the well being of all living creatures. When he woke up, he opened his eyes and tear drops fell on the Earth. These tear drops took the form of seeds that later on became the Rudraksha tree. Rudraksha therefore means ‘The Tear of Lord Shiva‘. Rudraksha possess powerful electromagnetic and inductive properties suggesting that the healing powers of Rudraksha beads flow from their electro-magnetic properties. It brings auspiciousness in wearer’s life and works continuously giving benefits.